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Istanbul has always been a place where stories and histories collide and crackle, where the idea is as potent as the historical fact. From the Qu'ran to Shakespeare, this city with three names - Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul - resonates as an idea and a place, and overspills its boundaries - real and imagined. Standing as the gateway between the East and West, it has served as the capital of the Roman, Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman Empires. For much of its history it was known simply as The City, but, as Bettany Hughes reveals, Istanbul is not just a city, but a story.
In this epic new biography, Hughes takes us on a dazzling historical journey through the many incarnations of one of the world's greatest cities. As the longest-lived political entity in Europe, over the last 6,000 years Istanbul has absorbed a mosaic of micro-cities and cultures all gathering around the core. At the latest count archaeologists have measured forty-two human habitation layers. Phoenicians, Genoese, Venetians, Jews, Vikings, Azeris all called a patch of this earth their home. Based on meticulous research and new archaeological evidence, this captivating portrait of the momentous life of Istanbul is visceral, immediate and scholarly narrative history at its finest.
Written and read by Bettany Hughes
Bettany Hughes is an award-winning historian, author and broadcaster. Her previous books (HELEN OF TROY: GODDESS, PRINCESS, WHORE and THE HEMLOCK CUP: SOCRATES, ATHENS AND THE SEARCH FOR THE GOOD LIFE) were published to great critical acclaim and worldwide success. Hughes has made a number of factual films and documentaries for the BBC, Channel 4, PBS, National Geographic, Discovery, The History Channel and ABC. She is a Research Fellow of King's College London and has been honoured with numerous awards including the Norton Medlicott Medal for History.
www.bettanyhughes.co.uk / @bettanyhughes
This is historical narrative brimming with brio and incident. Hughes's portraits are written with a zesty flourish ... Istanbul is a visceral, pulsating city. In Bettany Hughes's life-filled and life-affirming history, steeped in romance and written with verve, it has found a sympathetic and engaging champion' — Justin Marozzi, GUARDIAN
Bettany Hughes' Istanbul is built deliberately on what is passing as well as past. It is a story of numerous overlapping names, changes that often happened more slowly than the guidebooks tell us. Her subject is the city that was Byzantium for some 900 years, Christian Constantinopole for another 1,000, Islamic Islam-bol, then Istanbul - while also being New Rome, a Diamond Between Two Sapphires and The World's Desire...assiduous...passionate...there have beeen swirling tidal shifts around Istanbul since she began this book 10 years or so ago. She is celebrating citizenry of the world at a time when that idea is in retreat, damnming the "otherness" that the west has bestowed upon the east when throughout the world there are more and more "others"...She is a wistul and impassioned cosmopolitan who has produced a challenging story for 2017. — Peter Stothard, FINANCIAL TIMES
Her latest book, Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities, is a particular stroke of genius...Over the years the city has had three names - Byzantium, Contantinople and Istanbul so in a vivid rattle she hurls Xerxes, Alcibiades, Constantine, Justinian, Theodora, Suleyman the Magnificent and a sometimes overwhelming cast of thousands before us...It is a story well worth telling as the region continues to implode, the final or at least latest lashings out of the Ottoman Empire's collapse...The book is littered with historical echoes that...are impossible to ignore...there are wonderful anecdotes...She concludes with an encomium to Istanbul as a world city - literally, a cosmo-polis - where faiths and ethnicities are brought together by learning or trade...not an original thought but one that in this particularly troubled moment, for bomb-hit Istanbul and the rest of us, bears repeating. — Richard Spencer, THE TIMES
With a broadcaster's delight, Bettany Hughes...throws herself into the gargantuan task of capturing the history of a city that spans 3,000 years, and whose story has been woefully neglected compared with other great urban centres...Hughes reconstructs Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul as living, breathing landscapes...her scholarship is impressive...her enthusiasm radiates...Her subject...is irresistibly rich. The place known simply as "The City", Hughes notes, has long lived a "double life - as a real place and as a story"...The tale she tells of the metropolis at the crossroads of the Earth is textured, readable and often compelling. — Louise Callaghan, SUNDAY TIMES
A magisterial new biography...Bettany Hughes transports the reader on a magic-carpet-like journey through 8,000 years of history...in a vivid narrative dotted with colourful characters and fascinating tangents...the quintessential historical overview of a city racing up the modern political agenda. — Richard Turner, THE LADY
Fiery and magnificent new biography of Istanbul...Hughes does a fantastic job of cramming all this history into a fluid and engaging narrative. She also possesses a great turn of phrase, such as when she describes Haghia Sophia as seeming "to be suspended by a golden chain from heaven"...A gripping and erudite book. — Stav Sherez, CATHOLIC HERALD
Award-winning historian Bettany Hughes pieces together the history of Istanbul in a riveting biography of a brilliant, bloodied city. — Madeleine Keane, SUNDAY INDEPENDENT (IRELAND)
Ten years in the researching and writing, it's a glittering mosaic of a history, packing the stories of three cities - Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul - into one volume, from their earliest settlement in 6000BC, to the 20th Century. — Caroline Sanderson, THE BOOKSELLER
Over its 6,000 year history, Istanbul has been home to Phoenicians, Genoese, Venetians, Jews, Vikings and Azeris, and been the cornerstone of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires...Hughes traces the history of one of the world's greatest cities. — GUARDIAN
Sweeping across eight millennia in its 800 pages, this glinting mosaic of a book is divided into short, vivid, episodic chapters...With 2017 marking the 500th anniversary of the Ottoman caliphate in Istanbul, this sumptuously produced history book is as timely as it is enthralling. — Caroline Sanderson, SUNDAY EXPRESS
A scholarly narrative, but Hughes isn't averse to heating it up with the salacious stories that dot the city's past — Sameer Rahim, SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
For all its colourful drama, the city's history can be hard to narrate in a way that is coherent and gripping...Bettany Hughes [takes] up that challenge and...the result is impressive. In 'Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities' Ms Hughes plays intriguing, sophisticated games with time and space...by making unlikely connections between well-described locations and events separated by aeons, she gives voice to those witchy, diachronic feelings in a spectacular fashion. — ECONOMIST
One of the pleasures of wandering the city today - whatever you call it - is in recognising that its layers of history are so enfolded with one another that they are impossible to separate. This is also the pleasure of Bettany Hughes' highly readable jaunt through its past 2,500 years..Istanbul is still living history. Perhaps the most moving moment in the book comes when Hughes goes looking for the song of hte Janissaries...Hughes tracked down one of their descendants...Could he remember one of the Janissaries' famous old songs? "Yes he could - and out came a fluid, mellifluous prayer, a song from the religion of the road, a song of hope and revolution, of piety and of cosmopolitan human heartedness. It could be the city's anthem. — Sameer Rahim, DAILY TELEGRAPH
Bettany Hughes' history of Istanbul through the ages is richly entertaining and impeccably researched. Hughes' ebullient book is an ode to three incarnations of the city...[she] guides us round a city that is magestic, magical and mystical, leaving few stones unturned. It is a loving biography of a city that never stands still, never mind never sleeps...Hughes has written an important book that brings the past of this glorious city to life. It is filled with charming vignettes...snappily written...plenty here to entertain those who know something about the ciy and to enthrall those who don't. — Peter Frankopan, THE OBSERVER
The research is immaculate, as is the telling of it. — CHOICE
Bettany Hughes transports the reader on a magic-carpet-like journey through 8,000 years of history...[this is] the quintessential historical overview of a city racing up the modern politcal agenda. — Richard Tarrant, THE LADY
Istanbul's newly revived status as perhaps the major centre of Sunni Islam in the non-Arab world, and a pivot to the current Middle East imbroglio, is underlined by Bettany Hughes in the introduction to her sumptuous urban biography. — Robert Fox, EVENING STANDARD
Hughes...wishes to show how the city's topography shaped the civilisations that grew from it - and how the many peoples that have passed through its walls went on to shape the lands and seas and trade routes of their known world...The thrill the author takes in her discoveries is infectious...Keen as she is to identify a past that is still omnipresent, she does not just like the city to a "historic millefeuille": time and again she proves it...this heroic work...is the perfect read if - having noticed that Istanbul is increasingly in the news these days - you wish to know its place in the scheme of things, and what light it may case on the uncertain future we shall most certainly share. — Maureen Freely, NEW STATESMAN
Hughes suceeds triumphantly...and produces a cogent, passionate survey...bolstered by staggeringly wide-ranging research...[a] captivating book...Istanbul, a place where the past is impossible to miss...and few have told its enchanting story with Hughes's blend of precision and panache. — Jon Wright, GEOGRAPHICAL, The Royal Geographical Society magazine
It is a delightful book for those who know Istanbul, but what a treat for those who do not, and are considering a visit. [Hughes] is an excellent, informed and good natured guide...she gets under the skin of the great city. — Adrian Spooner, CLASSICS FOR ALL
Undoubtedly timely, because, as Hughes argues, Istanbul is once again central to the European narrative, as a postreligious secularism confront a resurgent religious movement. — Michael McLouglin, IRISH TIMES
The complexity of the city's story is revealed in mesmerising detail in Bettany Hughes's new book. At times her writing feels like a love letter, or a eulogy to what has been lost. Her compassion for the city and its millions of inhabitants, past and present, comes across from the very first pages. It is quite rare to read a historical book that weaves research and insight with understanding and love: here is a book written as much with the heart as the mind...Here is an important book that must be translated into many languages - and especially into Turkish. — Elif Shafak, THE SPECTATOR